Yesterday we talked about how the discipline of rest is foundational to spiritual renewal. I recently wrote a mini-essay on sabbatical for the benefit of some Acts 29 brothers, and I thought I’d post it for further reflection. Forgive the autobiographical tone… this was written as I reflected on my own sabbatical leave and tried to distill the principles I learned through my own experience. As you read, consider how you might implement some of these principles in a more truncated fashion (i.e. once a week instead of 6 straight weeks). I trust the restatement of these principles will be helpful as you seek to build Sabbath rest into your life.
THE PRINCIPLES OF SABBATH
- Rest. That means forgetting about doing and taking time just to BE. I spent every morning of my sabbatical reading and praying, and every afternoon making great memories with my kids by doing something fun together. In his book called Prayer, Richard Foster talks about restful prayer as “wasting time with Jesus.” If you’re a doer, it’s going to feel like you’re wasting time – like you could be getting something done, but you aren’t. Exactly.
- Reflection. After your mind and soul are at ease, and you are enjoying just being with Jesus and with your family, the Holy Spirit can easily move you to reflection. Most of us are so busy existing that we don’t take time to examine ourselves. One discipline of self-examination I undertook was to read through my prayer and ministry journals from the last 10 years. In some cases it was very encouraging (remembering ways God had used me that I had long forgotten); in other cases it was discouraging (seeing that “the same old struggles that plagued me then are plaguing me still”). I also spurred reflection through reading (I immersed myself in the church fathers and in Calvin’s Institutes for a few hours each day) and through prayer. Sometimes I would stare off into the sky for 30 or 40 minutes just thinking about God, myself, my church, my calling. Whenever I felt like the Spirit was really working on me in some area, I would journal or type it out so I could come back to it later.
- Repentance. The natural by-product of reflection is repentance. As I had unhurried time to consider the man I have become and the man (by God’s grace) I would like to be, I was moved to repentance. I won’t air all my laundry here, but for the sake of humility and encouragement I will mention two areas of conviction. First, God convicted me that I often use people for the mission instead of loving them like Jesus. Part of this is due to how I’m made (mission-driven) and is not sinful; but another part of it is definitely sinful – a violation of the Great Commandment. I had to repent for the ways I have driven my people toward the mission without loving and shepherding them effectively. Second, and more grievous, God convicted me that I do the same with my wife. I tend to try and drive her toward sanctification instead of honoring her as a weaker vessel and living with her in an understanding way. The gospel has become more precious to me in these 6 weeks as I realize how very much NOT like Jesus I am, and how deeply I need his empowering and sanctifying grace.
- Renewal. After an extended period of rest, reflection, and repentance, God works renewal in your soul and in your leadership. Jesus granted me new vision and energy for the next stage of our church. I prayed through some nagging doubts and questions. I discerned preaching topics for the next year. I gained prayerful insight on what I need to start doing and what I need to stop doing. He gave me new energy and zeal for being a great husband and father. I return home refreshed, renewed, and ready to step into the yoke again, leading Jesus’ people forward by His grace into the next stage of shaping a movement.